The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1610  Tuesday, 26 June 2001

From:           Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 25 Jun 2001 15:48:06 +0100
Subject: 12.1594 Re: Volpone Productions Dates
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1594 Re: Volpone Productions Dates

David Kathman wrote

>The 1616 Jonson Folio says that Volpone was first performed by the
>King's Men in 1605.  By our modern reckoning, this could have meant any
>time between 1 January 1605 and 24 March 1606, which probably accounts
>for the inconsistent dates you've seen.  (Jonson often, but not always,
>used old-style dates.)

I think there's less uncertainty...

The final page of Volpone in the Jonson folio Workes says it "was first
/ acted, in the yeere / 1605. / By the Kings Maiesties / SERVANTS"
(Jonson 1616, Xx4v) and there is no reason to doubt this statement. R.
B. Parker dated composition by Sir Politick's question "Were there three
Porcpisces seene, aboue the Bridge, As they giue out?" and Peregrine's
statement that "The very day / (Let me be sure) that I put forth from
London, / There was a Whale discouer'd, in the riuer, / As high as
Woollwich" (Jonson 1607, D2v; Jonson 1983, 8-9). Parker identified these
as allusions to the incidents recorded in Howe's continuation of Stow's
Annals for 19 January 1606: "a great Porpus was taken aliue at Westham .
. . & within few dayes after, a very great Whale came vp within 8. mile
of Lon.", which a marginal note summarizes as "A great Whale came vp as
high as Woollwich" (Stow 1615, Eeee2r).

The repetition of "as high as Woolwich" eliminates coincidence but since
Volpone was printed before this edition of the Annals, which is unlikely
to consciously borrow from a dramatist, the phrase was presumably used
in word-of-mouth transmission of the story of the incident. This
allusion indicates that the play was composed and first performed
between 19 January 1606 and 24 March 1606. That is to say, the allusion
requires acceptance that the year "1606" given in the Folio refers to 25
March 1605 to 24 March 1606. As Parker noted, Greg found difficulty in
accepting this proposition (Jonson 1983, 9). Greg correctly identified
this allusion as crucial to the discussion of Jonson's chronological
habit, but apparently failed to notice the marginal entry in the Annals
which eliminates the possibility of coincidence. Here's Greg:

Now, although this entry is incorrectly described by the poet's latest
editors as being 'in terms almost identical with Jonson's' (for West
Ham, far from being above London Bridge, is barely above Woolwich),
there is a good deal of weight in the contention that dramatist and
annalist are alluding to the same events. Conclusive, however, it is not
. . . (Greg 1926, 345)

If the topical allusion is accepted (and with coincidence eliminated
there seems no reason to reject it) then all the dates of first
performance in the Jonson Folio must be interpreted as 'March-March'
rather than 'January-December'.

Works Cited

Greg, W. W. 1926. "The Riddle of Jonson's Chronology." The Library.

Jonson, Ben. 1607. Ben: Jonson His Volpone or the Foxe. London. [G. Eld]
for T. Thorppe.

Jonson, Ben. 1616. The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. STC 14751. London.
William Stansby.

Jonson, Ben. 1983. Volpone, or, the Fox. Ed. R. B. Parker. The Revels
Plays. Manchester. Manchester University Press.

Stow, John. 1615. Chronicles and Annals. Continued Until 1614. By E.
Howes. (An Appendix of Three Universities. The Thirde Was Collected By
Syr G. Buck). London. (T. Dawson) imp. T. Adams.

Gabriel Egan

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